For the last five centuries, people of many ethnic groups have immigrated to America. The majority came through Ellis Island. They came from Europe with a plan to start their life anew. Many came to work and pay off their debts. Many came because of famine in their homeland. Many came simply for the opportunity to provide their children a better life than they had back home. Some Europeans chose to change the spelling of their last name to prevent ethnic discrimination. Some congregated in neighborhoods where people spoke the same language and followed familiar customs. Each generation became more American and less German, Irish or Polish. Now, their children and grandchildren call themselves American. . . not Polish-American. . . not German-American. . . not European-American. Most of America has embraced them as a part of the fabric that is uniquely American. They share the fruit of America's wealth and the pain of America's troubles. Within their homes, you may find tributes to their ethnic heritage. You may see them follow some cultural activities passed down from their ancestors. Some have even reverted to the original spelling of their sir-name as an embracement of their heritage since times had changed in America and the attitude toward their particular ethnicity.
During those same centuries, other groups of people - without as romantic a relationship with the history of America - have also fought to be included in the American fabric. Typically, American industries and individuals forced Africans, Central Americans and Asians to America. They came as slaves, migrant workers or personal servants to the rich. Nevertheless, the children of these immigrants have rightfully earned the status of full American. A status granted by the laws of this land. If you were born here, you are American. No other qualifications are required.
We are all familiar with the success stories of the American Civil Rights Movement. We enjoy the fruit of our parent's and older sibling's sacrifices every day. Truly, I would not be able to declare myself an American today without the battles they fought and the changes they instituted in this country. Another movement, far less known to my generation, was the Double-V Movement during WWII. This grass roots campaign worked toward a simple goal. They wanted “colored Americans" recognized as full Americans. Their stated theme was “Democracy: Victory at Home, Victory Abroad".
It began on January 31, 1942, when James G. Thompson, of Wichita, Kansas wrote a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Courier titled, “Should I Sacrifice To Live ‘Half American?'". This letter sparked an overwhelming response from “colored America".
On February 14, 1942, the Courier released this statement, above the masthead:
"The Courier's Double ‘V’ For a Double Victory Campaign Gets Country-Wide Support. "
"Last week, without any public announcement or fanfare, the editors of The Courier introduced its war slogan- a double “V" for a double victory to colored America. We did this advisedly because we wanted to test the response and popularity of such a slogan with our readers. The response has been overwhelming. Our office has been inundated with hundreds of telegrams and letters of congratulations proving that without any explanation, this slogan represents the true battle cry of colored America. This week we gratefully acknowledge this voluntary response and offer the following explanation: Americans all, are involved in a gigantic war effort to assure the victory for the cause of freedom- the four freedoms that have been so nobly expressed by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. We, as colored Americans, are determined to protect our country, our form of government and the freedoms which we cherish for ourselves and the rest of the world, therefore we have adopted the Double “V" war cry- victory over our enemies on the battlefields abroad. Thus in our fight for freedom we wage a two-pronged attack against our enslaves at home and those abroad who would enslave us. WE HAVE A STAKE IN THIS FIGHT. . . . WE ARE AMERICANS TOO!"
The movement knew that if America acknowledged “colored people" as full Americans, all other rights, privileges and responsibilities would follow. Sometime along the way, however, we lost sight of this goal.
After achieving the rights many thought would be impossible, we minorities chose, yes chose, to identify ourselves as part-Americans.
Granted, some of us could not simply change the spelling of our last names to re-connect our family with our ethnic heritages. Most of us whose great-grandparents were slaves have no knowledge of our ancestral country, let alone what family names would be applicable.
Many Asian names do not translate to English. Phonetic spellings have to suffice.
So what do we do instead?
We prefix our Americanism with our ethnic heritage and separate them with a dash.
Are we “half African" and “half American"? Are we “half Asian" and “half American"? Are we really “half Hispanic" and “half American"? If so, which half of me is which?
Is that why we fought the battles for civil rights? Is this how we celebrate the achievements of our ancestors? Do you really believe this shows honor and respect for your heritage? Do you identify only partially with the American way of life? Do you describe some of your aspirations as African dreams and some as American dreams?
Let me try to answer these questions for you. . . No. . . No. . . No. . . No, and, oh yeah, No.
What if your parents have two different ethnicities? Are you Asian-African-American?
Where do you stop? What would Tiger Woods call himself? African-Chinese-Native-Thai-European-American?
Our ancestors forced this country to live up to its declaration that “all men are created equal".
They forced this country to include - and recognize - all races, creeds and genders that make up the uniquely American fabric. We live in a country that guarantees you the right to worship your choice of god, openly celebrate your ethnic customs, and be a proud individual without the threat of government intervention.
There is a price to identifying yourself as half-American. You are declaring you are not a full American. You have put your past before the present. You limit your future by dwelling on your past.
Yes, we all should take pride in our heritage. Yes, we all should embrace the different cultures and customs that make up this country. Yes, we all should learn each ethnic group's contributions and tribulations during their unique journeys to becoming American.
We all should celebrate the success of our ethnic ancestors in creating a country that transcends our differences by identifying ourselves as full Americans. Not Americans prefixed with a dash. A dash implies part this, part that.
We are all Americans. We all may have African, Hispanic, Asian, Native and/or European ancestries but we are all still American.
So, what exactly is “Drop the Dash"?
"Drop the Dash" is my plea to my fellow citizens to remove the adjective and just be an American. Regardless of where my ancestors originated, I was born in America.
I am American.
If you ask for my ethnic heritage, I will tell you proudly “I am an American with African and European ancestry". To ignore my great-grandfather's European ethnicity is just as bad as ignoring my other great-grandfather's African ethnicity.
However, their ethnicity is not what makes me who I am or influences how I think. Being a “conservative-leaning, moderate independent with Democratic-leaning ideologies" would be more indicative of what I believe, who I am and how I see this country and its relationship to the world. I share the same American dream as my neighbors, co-workers and friends.
I work hard to make a life as good, preferably better, for my children than what I had as a child.
I believe in what our Constitution says and I believe we have a duty to protect the rights of all Americans from all enemies foreign and domestic. America is facing enemies from abroad with terrorism. America is also facing enemies from within with the economic and environmental catastrophes that we must somehow prevent in the immediate future.
If global warming is not contained, all Americans and the world will suffer. If not nurtured for growth, our economy and capitalism cannot endure. If the American people do not have faith in the integrity of our politicians and the preparedness of our country to protect us from disasters - both manmade and natural - our government will surely collapse.
Now is not the time to push the agendas of each sub-group of America. We have to fix America now or there will be no America left worth subdividing.
We now have the choice to be half-American or full American. Because of all of our ancestors - black, white, beige and brown - this choice is individually ours.
This is what the Double-V Movement wanted to accomplish. I can already see James G. Thompson smiling down on us.
As Senator Barrack Obama put so eloquently during his DNC speech in 2004,
"E pluribus unum: ‘Out of many, one. ’ Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us - the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of “anything goes. " Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America - there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America - there's the United States of America. "
I believe now is the time to “re-group" as Americans to face the challenges ahead. I believe we all have an obligation and a responsibility to call ourselves “American". . . many peoples, many cultures. . . one dream, one America.
I believe now is the time to “Drop the Dash".
COPYRIGHT 2008, William Myrick Thomas. All Rights Reserved.